Thursday, May 22, 2014

A foundation whisky - Suntory Yamazaki Puncheon

Suntory Yamazaki Puncheon
I have been waiting a while to get my hands on a bottle of the Suntory Yamazaki Puncheon to try. Yet until recently and with certain limitations in Australia for access to varied Suntory Whisky expressions, I had to wait until the opportunity knocked. Luckily at a recent Oak Barrel tasting with Mike Miyamoto, Global Brand Ambassador for Suntory, the Yamazaki Puncheon was pulled out as the secret last dram (or 2 in my case when you ask for just a little more).

Things to know before delving into this whisky is understanding a bit about Suntory Whisky's philosophy, that this expression is a single maturation style single malt plus the foundation ingredient in the Yamazaki 12yo expression. By foundation I mean that the Yamazaki 12yo is a multifaceted Single Malt made up various maturation styles and barrel types from just the Yamazaki distillery, hence still a Single Malt but the core ingredient is the puncheon barrels. In the case of the Yamazaki Puncheon release what we have here is just a single maturation cask style. Though you might think "yeah so what", what gives it the wow factor is that Suntory Whisky don't normally do this kind of thing. As even Mike Miyamoto said the Japanese market don't react well to it and prefer something more suited to the nations delicate palate. Suntory Whisky is all about harmony and marriage of malts so a single cask style sits right out of the ordinary. They just don't do things like this very often.

This Yamazaki Puncheon was bottled in 2011 with an ABV of 48%. Not being a standard release you will not find it on the Suntory Whisky website. This limited release, as with the following 2012 and 2013 releases, saw its maturation exclusively in North American White Oak Puncheons that previous contained a distilleries undisclosed bourbon. Current word from Mike Miyamoto is that the Yamazaki Puncheon is not going to be extended as a release into 2014.

The name of this whisky Puncheon comes from the naming of the 318 litre (imperial) to 465 litre (US) American oak casks called Puncheons. This size does vary depending where you look and even where the casks are being sold from, so take this size as an average. Effectively though a Puncheon is considered a term for a barrel size at 1/3 the size of a standard Tun with an imperial measure of 945 litres. To compound the problem many Suntory sources list this as coming from a 480 litre cask which would probably place it as a Butt (oh my head). In short larger barrels mean less wood contact giving much more subtle characteristics.

Japanese whisky is all about making whisky for Japanese the people first and foremost. Light and complex with multi faceted flavours is the true aim in all cases for Suntory Whisky. It is no surprise then that even in the Single Malt form this primary reasoning shows through.

So far this has all been sounding pretty complicated for a Single Malt so let me break down my thoughts on the tasting.

Lovely colours to the whisky
Suntory Yamazaki Puncheon Single Malt
Distiller: Suntory Whisky
Location / Region: Yamazaki Distillery, Kyoto, Japan
Alcohol / ABV: 48%
Colour: Brushed gold

Nose: Mild oaks, with distinct florals and hay notes with heavy layered buttery cereals giving me the scent like warm buttered scones.

Taste: Medium bodied, a little oily, sweet butter, a touch of vanilla oak,  and a tacky chew with a distinct copper banding across the mid to top palate (I recognise this copper as it also comes out in the Yamazaki 12yo and the thing I don't like about the 12yo also).

Finish: Spicy ginger with a medium dryness while leaving a prickle on the tongue and lips long after dramming. The finish is not great.

Overall the balance was a bit on the dense side but still I think I could easily get used to this whisky regardless. If I was to give a dram then a 5 out of 7. It would taste better on ice. Try it at a bar or share a bottle with friends as the pricing here in Australia is for around $180 AU and that is way to high for what you get out of it but certainly worth a look in if your a Japanese whisky tragic.

Unique really sums it up and I can see why it has been designed for blending or vatting and not primarily as a single maturation style malt expression. I would suspect this bottle is purely to satisfy the foreign market at the time and see how they took to non layered Japanese single malt and quite possibly the forefather of a dedicated single barrel maturation style Single Malt range from Suntory Whisky. Especially considering it has seen 3 years of limited release. Interestingly after dramming this whisky it enhanced a plum wine nose on the Hibiki 12yo and 17yo when I went back to them after and that was a really lovely suprise.

The Baron